By John Lauritsen

INDEPENDENCE, Minn. (WCCO) — People learn every day that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

And sometimes, one man’s scrap metal turns into another man’s sculpture.

That’s the case for Gene Piersa and his daughter, Kristen Kregel.

Scraps of metal are re-purposed and eventually find their way onto Piersa’s front lawn.

“It started when I was 5-years-old and I got distracted by life,” Piersa said.

He was born in New York, grew up South Dakota, and really became an artist in California.

Now, he spends his time in the shop behind his Independence home.

“In 2007, I quit everything else,” Piersa said. “I just stopped everything else and decided this is what I’m going to do.”

What he’s doing is turning scrap metal into towering pieces of artwork.

And his “partner in creativity” just happens to be his daughter.

“I always wanted a horse when I was younger, and I never got one so I made one,” Kregel said.

Piersa passed his experience as a welder to Kregel, and she uses it to create animals of all kinds.

“My last horse took me two months of full-time work,” Kregel said. “If I was working on it 45 to 50 hours a week, that’s how long it took.”

One of the sculptures she sold paid off an entire student loan. Once, she used 500 horseshoes to make a buffalo.

“It wasn’t easy,” Kregel said. “But random people will come up to me and say, ‘You made that, wow!’ It’s been fun to see that positive reaction from people.”

It can takes months of bending, grinding and welding to make one piece.

But for Piersa, time means nothing.

He uses what he calls “Notes to Self” for inspiration.

Sketches are in his head and each piece of metal is like a key piece in a puzzle.

“The first step comes to me clear,” he said. “I start with that and then the next step. And then the next step. It’s kind of like life too, in a way. But that’s how I develop my designs.”

Designs are pieced together with old bicycles or farm equipment. One on his front lawn is called “push-pull.”

Piersa said he isn’t political, but the sculpture is of two bikes welded together, facing opposite directions. He says it symbolizes American politics.

“They can pedal all day long but they aren’t going to move,” he said.

Piersa’s pieces, like one at Normandale Community College, can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, and they’re not easy to move.

“I sometimes knock on doors in the neighborhood and get as many guys with good backs as I can,” he said. “They say, you should buy a forklift. I say what’s a forklift? I’ve got neighbors.”

But people who drive by know who he is. And like a magnet, people send scrap metal his way.

“Last year I had 12 people call me saying they had metal and if I was interested,” Piersa said.

Eventually, it’ll all become “something.”

Piersa gives away a lot of what he does, including a piece he made for a 12-year-old girl with a serious illness, who wants to be a dancer.

“I thought about it for a while and I came up with this,” he said. “And I gave it to her the day before I went to the Mayo for six days of surgery.”

In the end, it’s not about what Piersa and Kregel see, but what they make others see.

“Maybe they see something here that inspires them,” Piersa said. “Takes their mind off the daily routine, adds something to their day…and maybe some joy.”

John Lauritsen